May 27, 2014
In the third chapter of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon gave two reasons why the slavery into which the Romans had tumbled under Augustus and his successors left them more wretched than any previous human slavery. In the first place, Gibbon said, the Romans had carried with them into slavery the culture of a free people: their language and their conception of themselves as human beings presupposed freedom. And thus, says Gibbon, for a long time the Romans preserved the sentiments – or at least the ideas – of a freeborn people. In the second place, the empire of the Romans filled all the world, and when that empire fell into the hands of a single person, the world was a safe and dreary prison for his enemies. As Gibbon wrote, to resist was fatal, and it was impossible to fly.
The power of that Roman empire rested in its leaders’ control of communications. The Mediterranean was their lake. Across their European empire, from Scotland to Syria, they pushed roads that 15 centuries later were still primary arteries of European transportation. Down those roads the emperor marched his armies. Up those roads he gathered his intelligence. The emperors invented the posts to move couriers and messages at the fastest possible speed.
Using that infrastructure, with respect to everything that involved the administration of power, the emperor made himself the best-informed person in the history of the world.
That power eradicated human freedom. “Remember,” said Cicero to Marcellus in exile, “wherever you are, you are equally within the power of the conqueror.”
This article was posted: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 6:30 am